STEVEN LEGENDRE | Gymnastics
Height: 5’7” | Weight: 156 pounds (offseason), 151-153 (competition)
Birthplace: Port Jefferson, N.Y.
Lives: Norman, Okla.
Previous Olympics: N/A
Photo by John Cheng
Every athlete who makes it to the Olympics is, in some way, physically gifted. But few showcase the full potential of the human body in the way that gymnasts do. Master manipulators of their own bodyweight, these athletic dynamos display what our muscles are truly capable of: power and grace, strength and subtlety, speed and precision. And few in the world today are better practitioners of this discipline than U.S. gymnast Steven Legendre.
While most of us marvel at what these athletes accomplish on the uneven bars, rings or vault, it’s safe to say we all cringe a little at the inherent danger of such things. For Legendre, overcoming those fears is the fun part. “I love setting goals and accomplishing them,” says the 23-year-old Oklahoman. “It’s fun to make yourself a little scared of something, then to get over that fear and do it.”
Luckily for Legendre, gymnastics is a sport in which risk is rewarded; more difficult (read: more dangerous) moves receive higher scores upon completion. “I try to be smart, but I’m also willing to take a risk, which makes it so much fun,” Legendre says. “If everything was safe, it probably wouldn’t be as exciting.”
Though he started in gymnastics as a high-energy 7-year-old looking to have some fun, Legendre is bullish on preparation in hopes of landing atop the medal podium in London. But despite the fact that gymnasts are known for their fantastic physiques — full, rounded shoulders, wide backs and densely muscled arms — as well as their raw strength, their workouts involve very little weight training. “To be honest, we do more bodyweight training and gymnastics-specific training,” Legendre says. “Weight training is maybe about 15 percent of what we do.”
Instead, Legendre and his teammates work on a steady diet of dips, pull-ups and plyometrics as the base of their strength program. The latter, Legendre says, is crucial for building the explosive power needed for sprints, vaults and the tumble-heavy floor exercise. Lower-body circuits, which can include up to 15 stations, assist in conditioning and provide the stamina needed to perform at a high level for the duration of each event. “But a lot of what we do is ring strength,” Legendre says. “The way this event has evolved, it’s almost entirely about strength.”
Legendre says that while many people want to get out there and try the iconic “iron cross” position, mastering the rings is a years-long task that begins with simply being able to hold your bodyweight up at full extension, as you would in the top portion of a dip. “Most of us started ring strength when we were 9 or 10 years old, and there’s a lot of progressions that take place along the way.”
Speaking of progressions, there are still a few that this brazen, try-anything athlete has to go through before the U.S. Olympic gymnastics team is named at the end of June. With a lot of work — and a little luck — Legendre’s name will appear on that roster.
TRAIN LIKE A GYMNAST
National Teamer Steven Legendre offers this “anywhere” routine to start building a gymnast’s physique.
QUEEN UNDERWOOD | Boxing
Height: 5’5 ½” | Weight: 137 pounds (offseason), 132 pounds (competition)
Previous Olympics: N/A
Photo courtesy of USA Boxing
When Queen Underwood got into boxing in 2003, it wasn’t for the glory. Like all those who have pursued the combative arts, she was simply answering a call — one that beckoned her to drab gyms, countless hours of brutal training and the honor of trading punches with others as a vocation. Still, this summer, Underwood could get her shot on the ultimate amateur stage as she vies for a spot on the first-ever women’s Olympic boxing team.
“In the beginning, I didn’t know that there was even a difference between amateur and professional boxing,” she says. “When I heard [in 2009] that boxing would be an Olympic sport, I knew it was an opportunity that I wanted to experience — to be around the best of the best and hopefully to be able to say that I’m an Olympic gold medalist.”
Underwood overcame the first major hurdle on that road a few months ago when she won her weight class (132 pounds/60 kilos) at the U.S. Olympic trials for boxing. Still on the horizon, as of press time, was the Women’s World Boxing Championships in China, which is the final qualifier for the Olympics roster. “I won bronze at the last World Championships, so gold in China would be great,” she says. “I just need to train hard, focus and see what I can fix from the last time I competed at Worlds.”
“Train hard” doesn’t begin to capture the breadth of a boxer’s conditioning program. Consider for a moment that the average franchise boxing gym can help you burn about 750 calories in an hourlong class. Underwood trains that hard for about four hours a day.
At 7 a.m., Underwood hits the gym for the strength-and-conditioning portion of her day. This workout usually consists of multi-joint movements like squats and barbell rows with weights, agility work with tools like floor ladders and cones, and core work with medicine balls. Combining strength and quickness, Underwood says, is just as crucial to a boxer’s success in the ring as the fight-specific drills that come with her afternoon session.
Around 2 p.m., Underwood and her teammates head back to the gym for their bread-and-butter work. Heavy bag, double-end bag, speed bag, jump-rope, sparring and mitt drills with a coach are hallmarks of this dizzying, sweat-soaked session. According to Underwood, it’s the combination of the two sessions that help mold dangerous fighters. “You have to have fast reflexes,” she says. “And a lot of core strength is mandatory since throwing punches correctly requires it. We derive power from the ground up, through our legs, and you need strong hips and legs to be able to throw with more power. I can see a difference from the training. I can go out there and feel strong and know that I can take down my opponent. It makes you a beast.”
But there’s no denying the mental acumen that has to be developed by boxers at this level. Battling through four rounds of harnessed hostility requires a distinct determination. “Other sports are game sports,” says Underwood, who ran track and played basketball in high school. “It’s not just beating your last time or working on your jumper. You can’t predict what your opponent will do in the ring. Combat sports are just different. Who wakes up and says, ‘I wanna get in a fight today?’”
It’s that mentality that Underwood hopes will drive her to London, and to reinforce it, she repeats her new strategy: “Train hard. Be ready from the opening bell. Don’t leave anything in the hands of the judges.”
FIT FOR A QUEEN
These are the CliffsNotes on Queen Underwood’s nutrition strategies on the road to the Olympics.
Going Greek. A light snack of protein-rich Greek yogurt with frozen fruit 30 minutes before her morning training session provides Underwood all the energy she needs, she says.
Big breakfast. For her first true meal of the day, Underwood noshes on egg whites, oatmeal, a bagel with cream cheese and a piece of sausage or bacon. This, she says, is her favorite meal of the day.
Carb taper. Though she usually carries only 4 or 5 pounds above her fight weight, Underwood routinely cuts her carb consumption as the day wears on. “I don’t have any carbs for dinner or on the weekend,” she says.
Protein shakes. Underwood prefers a ready-to-drink protein shake to refuel after training. Each shake contains 10 grams of muscle-building protein and 29 grams of carbs to top off glycogen stores.
NATHAN ADRIAN | Swimming
Height: 6’6” | Weight: 220-230 pounds
Birthplace: Bremerton, Wash.
Lives: Berkeley, Calif.
Previous Olympics: 2008 (gold medal, 4×100 freestyle)
Photo by Tim Binning of The Swim Pictures
For many of us, the U.S. victory in the 4×100 freestyle at the 2008 Beijing Olympic swim events was one of the most thrilling, patriotic bits of sports drama ever. The scene played out in slow motion and was decided by eight one-hundredths of a second. That epic moment not only garnered medals for the four men in the race but also for those who helped get them there — the men who swam in the qualifying heats. That’s how Nathan Adrian, who helped set a world record for Team USA in the prelims, received a gold medal … and absolutely no fanfare. “I ended up getting my medal in a vacuum-sealed bag later on in a team meeting,” Adrian says.
But that sting of disappointment was tempered with pride at having been part of such an amazing feat. “It was incredible,” he says. “I was 19 and really had no true understanding of what it meant to be an Olympian, let alone a medalist. The coach selected the four fastest guys, and we won. Those guys deserved the medal.”
Fast-forward to 2012. Adrian is one of the world’s premier sprint swimmers with a serious shot at capturing individual gold at this year’s Olympics. Conflicting feelings about medaling from the sidelines have long since been washed away by a renewed dedication to training. “The Olympics kind of lit a fire for me,” he says. “I still have so much more to accomplish, and I won’t be happy until I get there.”
Finding motivation is not hard. Ironically, a subpar bronze-medal finish in his team’s 4×100 at the 2011 FINA World Championships is what he is using to power through tough workouts. “I swam anchor on that race, and we just didn’t perform,” he says. “When things get hard, I think about that moment to make sure I’m doing all I can to put up a great split.”
To ensure it doesn’t happen again, Adrian counts perfecting his stroke among his 2012 prep. But much of what he’s able to shave off the clock will depend on what he does in the weight room. Adrian and his teammates spend a great deal of time grunting through heavy sets of deadlifts, hang cleans and power cleans to build explosive strength off the blocks, a trait he says is crucial for swimmers in sprint events like the 50 or 100 freestyle. Another huge part of his training? Core work.
“When you’re fatiguing, it’s likely due to your core failing,” he says. To that end, Adrian and his teammates do a lot of crunches and exercise-ball work, but the greatest benefit has come from suspension training. Adrian performs the TRX version of ab-wheel rollouts with regularity, mixing in holds at full extension and complete range-of-motion reps. Still, he says, those coveted Olympic swimmer abs are really a matter of training volume and sound nutrition. “As much as I’d like to say it’s what we’re doing in the weight room, it’s really the two hours twice a day in the pool.”
Though he’s 6 feet 6 inches tall and 225 pounds, Adrian isn’t just fast in the water. He’s considered strong for a swimmer, deadlifting 350 pounds for a single rep and able to execute a single pull-up with 150 pounds of weight around his waist. “I can also do a one-arm inverted row,” he says. In total, he lifts four days per week.
“People don’t understand how physically demanding this sport is,” he says. “You’re basically using all your muscles at once.” But the benefits are apparent. Broad-shouldered and wide-backed, swimmers possess physiques that reflect their dedication to training. But the real differences from all that cutting-edge programming can be measured on the clock — in hundredths of seconds.
A 180-pound athlete swimming freestyle for 30 minutes will burn 430 calories. But an Olympic sprinter is “moving at speeds that most swimmers aren’t capable of,” says National Teamer and Olympic hopeful Nathan Adrian. And they do it for up to four hours a day. How do these athletes maintain that degree of athleticism year-round? Proper nutrition is a huge part of it, says Dan McCarthy, high-performance consultant for USA Swimming.
“During a high training phase, an elite sprinter may be in the pool more than 25 hours per week, plus strength-and-conditioning workouts,” McCarthy says. “An elite sprinter won’t be doing the same training volume [as a medley swimmer] and won’t need the same amount of calories. The recommendation is going to vary by athlete and on the phase of training in which they are engaged.”
But the primary source of fuel remains the same. “Adrian’s training is fueled by carbohydrates,” McCarthy says. Adrian doesn’t count calories but estimates that he takes in somewhere north of 7,500 calories per day. “Really, there’s not more than a two-hour window when I’m not eating,” he says. “I’m constantly eating or snacking. I find myself only spending money on food every month, wondering where it all went!”
And he is strict about one nutritional ritual: refueling with chocolate milk within 10 to 30 minutes of getting out of the pool. “Chocolate milk is really important for me,” he says. “After training, you need some sugar to spike your insulin, you need protein and some vitamins.”